“The public has this notion that e-cigarettes are safe,” said study author Dr. Joseph Wu, director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute and a professor in the medical school’s departments of medicine and radiology.
Experts say this belief stems not just from the presence of fewer cancer-causing chemicals than combustible cigarettes, but also from the fact that many vaping products are sold in sweet or fruity flavors that may appear harmless.
“As a result of this perception, a lot of kids pick up e-cigarette smoking,” Wu said. “There’s so many kids who are smoking e-cigarettes. And these kids are going to become adults. And these adults can become elderly patients that I as a cardiologist will take care of later on.”
In the new study, which included six e-liquids with varying nicotine concentrations, Wu’s team found evidence of toxic effects — including poorer cell survival and signs of increased inflammation — on a type of cardiovascular cell. As proxy for what might happen in someone’s blood vessels, the researchers observed how these cells responded when in contact with e-liquids as well as fluid from the blood of a small group of participants who had vaped. These effects varied between the liquids, with the most potent being a cinnamon-flavored product.
While the researchers tested six liquids in the new study, experts say there are thousands of unique flavors being sold online. Which flavor component is most responsible for these effects and how it works is yet unclear, Wu added.
“In addition to harm from the nicotine, the additives are a potential source of adverse vascular health and one that is being disproportionately placed on the young,” they said.
“We’re seeing more and more evidence that e-cigarettes do have a relationship with increased chance of having a heart attack,” Dr. Lawrence Phillips, an assistant professor of medicine and director of outpatient cardiology at NYU Langone Health, previously told CNN.
“When we compare traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes, we’re really not comparing apples to apples,” said Phillips, who was not involved in the new research. “What we’re finding is that both are having increased risk.”